reading

Apothegms of Wince: The Masses Speak of Things Bookish & Grammatical

For over three decades now I’ve been recording in a series of journals the most astonishing utterances one could ever hope to hear as one goes about the daily business of surviving on planet Mayhem. Some of these were said directly to my face, most were overheard as I eavesdropped on the conversation of others. I have winnowed down thousands of quotes from young and old, educated and miseducated, the intelligent and, err . . . somewhat less intelligent in order to focus on 100 jaw-droppers primarily concerned with writing, reading and literature. If you think most people hold these subjects in high regard, well . . . all I can say is that you haven’t been listening very closely to your fellow man or woman.

Although not notated as such please understand that every brain stem utterance, non-sequitur, reality-wrenching misstatement, microburst of ignorance and/or illogic reproduced here is to be understood as being end-capped thusly: [sic]

And if some of these ring familiar (see especially those utterances coming from the mouths of novice writers), all I can say is that the complexity and uniqueness of human experience apparently only goes so far: certain patterns repeat, so it would seem—everywhere.

In no particular order, then:

………………………………

  1. “Reading?! I’ve no time to read; I’m in college.”
  2. “I decided to be impressive and use a semi-colon.”
  3. “I hate any book that has more than 300 pages in it; it’s so unnecessary.”
  4. “If you really want to call attention to a word or phrase tilt it.”
  5. “Unless your name is Virgil or Julius Caesar you shouldn’t be writing in Roman.”
  6. “Reading is so gay.”
  7. “The problem with most contemptible bourgeois literature is that it shamelessly propagandizes for autocratic hetero-normative values.”
  8. “I never read books written before I was born; people were so stupid then.”
  9. “I’m suspicious of science fiction; it keeps coming true.”
  10. “You know the symbol I mean: the ‘a’ with its tail wrapped around itself, like a dead possum?”
  11. “I like gun violence in the books I read; shrapnel is so random.”
  12. “The Canterbury tales weren’t written in modern English; they were written in Old English–which is French.”
  13. “I can’t read books by women; their names on the cover stop me.”
  14. “Of course women now comprise 70% of the book-buying public. Why is this so surprising? Video games do a much better job of scratching the male itch once catered to by Conan comics and Mickey Spillane paperbacks.”
  15. “The greatest writer in the world is Stephen King.”
  16. “The worst writer in the world is Stephen King.”
  17. “I can’t read fantasy; it’s so unreal.”
  18. “The thing about a good western is that all the right people die in it.”
  19. “All characters ever do in Shakespeare is talk, talk, talk.”
  20. “Greek mythology is perverted; no wonder they died out to the Mongols.”
  21. “Reading ruins your eyes and everything else.”
  22. “I only read books I can’t understand. I believe in improving myself.”
  23. “You think you’re a writer just because you use words?”
  24. “You can’t call it a mystery if you’ve finished the book.”
  25. “Libraries are arrogance centers.”
  26. “The Bible is the only book anyone needs. The correct version, of course; the _____ version.”
  27. “The only punctuation I use is the period, comma and question mark. Oh and those two little talking slashes.”
  28. “I don’t like to be shouted at by exclamation marks.”
  29. “My boss was mad at me because he thought I was mad at him: I typed in all capital letters. I told him I knew his eyes were bad.”
  30. “I couldn’t finish the book; my mother stole it.”
  31. “I caught my boyfriend reading my romance novel. He said he was jealous and wanted to know what I was up to.”
  32. “Did you read those Anne Rice s&m novels? There was so much bisexuality in them! I didn’t.”
  33. “Boldface is helpful if you want to move beyond subtlety.”
  34. “They call it literature because teachers like it. If kids like it they call the principal.”
  35. “Books are a blunt instrument; there are much faster ways of inducing clinical depression.”
  36. “I thought I would like Poe but then he Frenched me.”
  37. Moby Dick is boring! Boring, stupid and boring! I wish I was dead.”
  38. “My dad says I’ll appreciate books like that once I’ve lived long enough to understand what the author is trying to say. I said why doesn’t he just fucking say it?”
  39. “I don’t like authors who use flowery words. Like containment.”
  40. “I don’t understand a thing about poetry. Or why it’s called poetry.”
  41. “Norman Mailer’s not so tough. He’s dead, isn’t he?”
  42. “Your story needs a rape scene.”
  43. “The book exploded my brain.”
  44. “I’m going to write a bestseller next summer when I start writing. Like Tom Clancy.”
  45. “I guarantee you this story idea will make you rich; all you have to do is write it–then give me half the money you make. I’ll need you to sign a contract, of course.”
  46. “Say something in writing.”
  47. “You’re a very good writer. I didn’t read your story.”
  48. “I don’t have time to worry about lining up every dot and letter; that’s what editors are for.”
  49. “She criticized me by helping.”
  50. “What’s the fastest way to get an agent if you don’t need one?”
  51. “Will you read this and tell me what you think? It’s great! My first story. And it’s all true!”
  52. “Is the book fiction or nonfiction? Hmm . . . Neither sounds right. I think it’s that other category; they’re reading it in school. History?”
  53. “She marked my paper up to belittle-ize me.”
  54. “It’s a word that sounds like another word: a hama-nuh-nah-muh-moon.”
  55. “I couldn’t stop reading the book so I put it in the freezer.”
  56. “My dog hates that book.”
  57. “The teacher was very clear on this—if you have a parenthetical thought, forget it.”
  58. “I never read footnotes; they’re Aunt Celery to the text.”
  59. “Dictionaries are full of something, alright.”
  60. “Smug people buy thesauruses.”
  61. “This book shouldn’t be on your shelves; it’s offensive. Call the manager.”
  62. “The thing I’ll never get about writers is why they keep writing. Don’t they understand they’re irritating people?”
  63. “It’s a very good book; you’ll like it. The words are so normal you don’t even notice you’re reading!”
  64. “The whole thing ends with sharks eating the goddamn fish and I was so disgusted I started sobbing.”
  65. “The elves in Tolkien are meant to symbolize the Irish.”
  66. “A good Lovecraft tale ends in a dead professor and a muttering elder god.”
  67. “I think Andre Norton is a woman. I’m serious.”
  68. “Steinbeck’s Of Mice & Men is the greatest book I ever read. It was so short; I really appreciated that.”
  69. “A novella is a book that ran out of steam.”
  70. “Sure you can read a book and not be a dork—it’s called sports or mechanical.”
  71. “He insulted me with words I’m going to look up.”
  72. “I started reading and woke up on the floor. You see what happens?”
  73. “And the ironic thing about Dante’s Inferno is that you get to the center of hell and you’re just glad it’s over.”
  74. “Yeah, but if Huckleberry Finn had kept going into Mexico, Mark Twain would have more Hispanic readers, that’s all I’m saying.”
  75. “You know what they say: use a bookmark, not a small rock.”
  76. “I never read the author bio before I start reading the text; I’ll lose respect for the book.”
  77. “Novelists think they’re so clever.”
  78. “The title The Red Badge of Courage should be re-appropriated for a YA feminist novel of menstruation.”
  79. “Every time I see the words The Naked and the Dead I think about zombie orgies.”
  80. “I don’t waste my time on short stories; the author didn’t.”
  81. “She’s like, _________ and I’m all _________. I know, right?!” [Repeat this sentence structure five times in a row.]
  82. “John Gardner was a brilliant writer who crashed into a tree.”
  83. “When someone writes a screenplay it’s called a movie. When they turn a movie into a book it’s called desperate.”
  84. “It’s amazing! They’re just letters on the page, but when the letters turn into words and the words attack you . . .”
  85. “I never remember what I read. So why read? Waste of time.”
  86. “I abhor sexist language like his, her, policeman, cock.”
  87. “How did a crucified Jewish messiah wind up with a Greek name and a Roman Empire? God’s will.”
  88. “Emily Dickinson hid in an attic because she didn’t know what her poetry was talking about.”
  89. “It’s an oxymoron, like Burger World.”
  90. “What’s that word for a sentence that reads the same backward or forward? Hippodrome? Emperor Palpatine?”
  91. “I turned all the books in his library around so that the titles faced the back of the shelf.”
  92. “You never read anything by Rudyard Kipling? You’ve seen The Wizard of Oz, right?”
  93. “The essay is a form better left unwritten.”
  94. “I don’t call it cheating; I consider it rapid studying under pressure.”
  95. “I don’t need to read the book to know what I think about it; I’m educated.”
  96. “The book is called—what’s that title with three words in it?”
  97. “The problem with Shakespeare is that he wrote in Elizabeth Town dialect.”
  98. “It’s supposed to be a dirty book but it’s all cultural. I sweated buying it for nothing.”
  99. “She insisted I read the book. We’re not talking now.”
  100. “They said the book would change your life. So I read it. Same ‘ole life.”
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Uncategorized, writing technique

Raise Your Voice… uh, Voices!

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I am not a sarcastic person. Sarcasm strikes me as mean — snarky condemnations passive-aggressively issued by arrogant people desperate to feel superior to those they ridicule. Those who are not the target may think it’s witty, but maybe they’re just relieved and smugly enjoying the fact it wasn’t aimed at them. After all, does anyone really deserve such ridicule? I’m inclined to give all* people the benefit of the doubt, and accept their occasionally foolish, irritating, mind-raspingly stupid behavior as an entitlement every human may claim. Even I could claim it if I were ever foolish, irritating, or stupid. None of which, of course, I ever am.

That’s the reason Romero Russo was such a revelation. More than two years ago, Romero started writing a book called Sarcasm Font. My first public view of him was on Inkshares during a marketing contest. After completing the first five chapters of his ambiguously fictional story, he started blogging. People found his writing funny and thoughtful:

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Here’s the thing. I am him.

 

That’s right. Following an unexpected series of events leading to my brain slurring two words into a word you won’t find in the OED, a fit of whimsy took over. I began writing Sarcasm Font in a voice so unfamiliar to me that I couldn’t even claim author credit. Romero Russo was born. He had a life of his own. He didn’t speak to me; he spoke through me. No doubt other authors have had the same out-of-voice experience. I suspect they would agree: it’s freeing.

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The elusive Romero Russo (Photo credit: S.T. Ranscht)

 

Like many authors, I’ve written characters who say sarcastic things. Readers have commented that each of my characters has an individual, identifiable voice. But writing and living from inside a character whose voice differs drastically from your own is more like acting. If you allow that person to tell the whole story, the writing experience is more like watching the story than creating it.

When Romero went public on Inkshares, the circle who knew about the two of us was small: two of my sisters and my son. They were kind enough not to share Romero’s secret, but they weren’t shy about letting me know they thought it was kind of creepy that I talked about him as if he were real. He and I shared a Venn diagram overlap of followers, and we followed each other. Why wouldn’t we? We were marketing separate works by separate authors.

But when we started blogging, we were sharing our “selves” with strangers. That’s when it became a hoax. No one questioned it. Why would they? He said things I would never say. It was just so darn much fun to be Romero Russo.

After the 2016 A to Z Blogging Challenge, Romero went silent on WordPress. I was still working on Sarcasm Font, and planned to promote it under his name. I began to question the practicality of that when I wrote the short story behind one of his… um, life events, and entered it in a contest. Entry required a bio and a photo. I had those, no problem. But on the chance — however remote — that it won a cash prize, or was short-listed to be published in the anthology, wouldn’t I want the cash and/or credit to be mine? Yes. Yes I would. I submitted it under my name, and while it didn’t win any cash, it was published in the contest anthology. I got all the credit.

I also gave myself up. Someone — I leave the choice to acknowledge this to him — who follows both Romero and me procured a copy of the anthology and read my story, which I, appropriately though perhaps indiscreetly, called “Sarcasm Font”. He allowed that I might merely have appropriated Romero’s premise, but he also suspected that we might be one and the same, despite the difference in voices. When he asked me directly, I couldn’t bring myself to resort to “alternative facts”. I confessed.

My hope is that others may take some inspiration from this tale. If you haven’t yet written an out-of-voice story, I highly recommend it. It will open your mind to discover voices you didn’t know you had. Ideas that have never occurred to you before will flow. You might find your very own Romero Russo.

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*(Except for one person to whom I gave a chance, but whose consistently reprehensible behavior has depleted my ability to tolerate. I might need Romero to speak for me for the next four years.)

fullsizeoutput_174 S.T. Ranscht lives in San Diego, California. She and Robert P. Beus co-authored ENHANCED, the first book in the young adult Second Earth Trilogy. She is currently submitting their baby to literary agents, determined to find the one who is their perfect match. Her short story, “Cat Artist Catharsis”, earned Honorable Mention in Curtis Bausse’s 2016 Book a Break Short Story Contest, and is available in its anthology, Cat Tales. “Sarcasm Font” appears in the 2016 To Hull and Back Short Story Anthology. Find her online: on WordPress at Space, Time, and Raspberries, Facebook, Twitter @STRanscht and Instagram @stranscht. You can follow ENHANCED on Facebook, Twitter @EnhancedYASyFy, and Instagram @secondearthtrilogy.

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reading, Stories

Writing DaysZ 4

Searching for a second, well maybe third, cup of coffee, I pass the TV and see Tea Party demonstrators on the same street as Black Lives Matter separated by cops with dogs in the middle. Imagining PETA showing up to protect the police dogs sets me to grinning at the thought of feminists, environmentalists and immigration activists joining the melee, all for attention, donations and votes.

Bob vs the Aliens
To read Writing DaysZ 1-3, go to ROFLtimes.com/BvA.pdf

Diversity Faire

+++They were close enough to the blast that its light came a split second before the sound, causing them to begin turning when the hot wind blew over them.
+++“Careful,” whispered Bob, diving to the ground. All around, bits of debris began falling like hard rain.
+++“A Bomb!” Piper’s face showed fear. “Or mortar round. Or RPG. As a reporter, I’ve heard that many times on TV.”
+++Old Spice placed a hand on Bob’s shoulder, one eye imploring caution while the other eye turned inwards for news. “Wait,” the Alien confided, “I’m consulting with the others. That was a Hellfire Jr. missile. Made for domestic use.”
+++“What the – !?” Bob looked at him. “The bus?”
+++“The bus was destroyed, yes. But the WTF! racists had nothing to do with this. Their requests for heavy ordinance are invariably turned down. No, this was your government.”
+++“Friendly fire,” Piper opined. She sounded shaky.
+++“Friendly!” Bob sputtered. He sat against a tree and patted the ground. “Sit, Piper. Let’s see what Spice can tell us before we walk into hell fire.”
+++Spice sat in front of them, forming a little triangle of togetherness as the debris fall slowed. They stared at a leaf that faced the sky. Red granules of flesh had fallen on it, piling up like sand poured from a child’s hand. “That’s Jackson,” Spice said. A bare foot fell to ground, waxen white, drained of all blood. “That too. Pity, he used to be taller.”
+++“Friendly fire,” Piper began explaining, “Is accidental.” She looked at Jackson’s remains. “I mean….” She shook. “Our own government?”
+++Bob put his arm around her. “I know,” he said soothingly, “Oh my God. They tried to kill us.”
+++“Why!?”
+++“DARPA.” Spice’s inward eye appeared to be reading something. “Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. But it was not an official act.” Suddenly startled, he jumped up and helped Bob and Piper to their feet. “We are not the first! Come.” He led them deeper into the woods. “I’ve just been informed that two aliens already live here. One, it seems, lives near Denver. He will help us if we can reach him before the other kills us.”
+++They walked in silence while Spice searched for information. It was a beautiful day, mild and clear, but Alabama north of Highway 84 just across the Chattahoochee River was heavily wooded and rough going. By midday, exhaustion set in as one by one, they heard the sound of drums in the distance. Topping a hill, they looked down on an open valley. Below was a one street town. The block-long street had houses on both sides and at the edge of town it turned into a dirt road that wound away into the woods. “Down there,” Spice pointed. “We follow that road. It goes north-west and therefore towards Denver.”
+++“If you say so.” Walking downhill appealed to Bob. Drawing nearer, they saw crowds of people and the drums became a full band milling in the short street. Booths lined the street. Someone must have spotted them for at the town’s edge they were greeted by, apparently, the Mayor. “Welcome to Gay Camellia, Alabama! Home of the world famous annual and grand Diversity Street Faire!” The little bearded man wore a pink camellia in the lapel of his leprechaun suit.
+++“Thank you Sir or Madam,” Piper shook his hand. “We could use some freshening up first. If you can show us your public conveniences?”
+++But the Mayor was not to be put off his talking points. “Nowhere else will you see all these groups assembled peacefully together! The Gays have sheathed their claws; the Tea Party is unarmed. Even the Abortionists and their Antis are sharing booth space.” He beamed and waved at his town. “Isn’t it all just so Gay!?
+++“Gay,” Spice nodded, “Adjective. Being in or showing good spirits > happy, jolly. See cheerful. Full of color > rich, vibrant, vivid. See colorful.” He read with one eye inward while the other took in the panorama of booths richly painted in primary colors and telephone poles wrapped in vibrantly purple ribbons topped by vivid gold banners against a heavenly blue sky, all lining a street bouncing with the cheerful rainbow colors of dancing harlequin and jester band members. “Supererogatory, too.”
+++“Super, yes!” the Mayor clapped Spice on the shoulder, “We have our own LGBT Marching Band! You’re an Alien!” the Mayor suddenly realized, genuinely pleased. Then he took Pipers’ arm, “Come, have some refreshment. You must need it; nobody walks to town anymore.” To Bob he said, “Don’t worry, we welcome all sorts.”
+++Everybody was as friendly as they were colorful. At a booth constructed entirely of organic lumber, Environ-Mentalists served them a delicious reclaimed salad and explained how they knew the planet should be managed. The Alabama Police Union Comedy Troupe performed a skit titled “Common Ground,” with black activists and NRA Teaparty members hanging pedophiles from lampposts. At Bob’s suggestion that they, “Get the hell out of this crazy town, now!” Spice retorted, “This is the only reason you people still exist. It takes all kinds if anyone is to survive extinction events.”
+++“Well, whoever blew up that bus was interested in personal extinction. Maybe ours.”
+++“They were, but now the one after us is on his own. He’s been fired for destruction of a government-leased vehicle.”
+++“Who would want to kill us?” Piper puzzled.
+++“I don’t know. There was no mention in my briefing of other aliens on Earth.” He sounded surprised. “We thought we were the first.”
+++A delegation from Nations Without Borders Immigration welcomed Spice so warmly that he signed their petition to unite all protest groups worldwide into one, theirs. “What unexpected cooperation!” He glad-handed all the booths, zig-zagging down the street as they worked their way out of town. A feminists handed Piper a free PETA neutering kit, remarked for human use.
+++At the edge of town, they stopped for “free bottled water” from a booth manned by a couple wearing pins that read, “It’s all about the children.” Crude pictographs on the walls showed stick figures strangling, shooting, clubbing and decapitating smaller stick figures. “Oh,” breathed Piper, “Children! How wonderful. Do you have a brochure?” she politely inquired.
+++“We’re fairly new,” replied the woman. “Donations are still slow.” She pointed to a chalk board behind her.
+++“Support Infanticide. Vote Yes on Amendment 2,” Piper read, confused. “What? What do you want?”
+++“Well, we’re not asking for any new rights, we just want the current limits expanded a bit.”
+++“How,” Piper paused, “Expanded?”
+++“To 26.” The man explained. “If they’re still living at home when they’re 26, they need to be put down.”
+++Piper staggered back, reaching out. “Bob.” Feeling his hand close on hers she turned to him and gasped, “They are so sincere! These people….”
+++“I know. They are all sincere. That doesn’t mean they’re right.”
+++The two followed Spice into the woods.

Returning to the lanai with a mug of Guatemala Antigua, I attempt to ignore the TV lest it throw me off my thought track but am caught by whoops of frivolity from the morning news team. The news ticker scrolling at the bottom of the screen reports a night club shooting that left 6 dead. Live onscreen, a bleached blond fakes intense interest in a guy with a perfectly groomed unshaven look telling us about a restaurant named Prunes. They serve tripe. He hilariously tells how he and his friends held a contest to see who could eat the grossest things. Knee slapping follows. The ticker quotes a man mourning his murdered younger brother.

Whooping News Loonies
… to be continued
(Follow Writing DaysZ to read Bob Vs The Aliens as it is being written. To read Writing DaysZ 1-3, go to ROFLtimes.com/BvA.pdf)

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